Cellular Choices

Fast Company compares three of the biggest national carriers.


Choosing a cellular-service provider is not like choosing a long-distance carrier. There are contracts, service plans, and differing coverage areas to consider. By law, there are two cellular providers in each market, and prices and plans vary in each city and district across the country. You purchase a phone through a commissioned outlet, usually at a big discount when you sign up for a service. To put it all in perspective, we’ve compared three of the biggest national carriers in two different locales: AT&T Wireless and Bell Atlantic NYNEX’s service in the New York metropolitan area, and GTE Mobilnet’s service in Cleveland.


Provider Coverage Digital/Data Services Extra Features Packages/Cost Bottom Line
AT&T Wireless
Good. Service in more than 105 major metro markets. Home areas are large enough to cover most commuters’ needs without incurring additional roaming fees. Good. AT&T offers TDMA digital service across about 90% of its network. CDPD for transferring data by modem over the cellular network is also included. Good. Standard features include call waiting, call forwarding, and “no answer” transfer. Voice mail is $6.95 per month. AT&T plans to offer caller ID, sleep mode (for conserving battery power), and short messaging services. Expensive. A basic two-year contract goes for $19.99 per month, but calls cost 85 cents per minute with no free minutes. A one-year contract with 30 free minutes is $29.99-per-month, plus 75 cents per minute during peak hours and 55 cents per minute during off-peak. Following the purchase of McCaw, AT&T became the largest cellular-service provider in the U.S. The service isn’t cheap. But being the biggest has its advantages. When systems get upgraded, AT&T is very aggressive about bringing the new features to market
Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile
Good. Covering more than 70 areas across the country, Bell Atlantic NYNEX is the biggest cellular provider on the East Coast and the second largest in the country. Weak. No digital service in the NYC area. Bell Atlantic NYNEX plans to introduce a digital CDMA voice system by the end of the year. For cellular modems, CDPD is available in the New York area. Average. Unlike AT&T, Bell Atlantic NYNEX does not offer voice-activated calling in NYC. However, conference calling, call waiting, and call forwarding are standard features. Expensive. There’s a two-year introductory contract for $14.99 per month with no free minutes. Depending on where you’re calling from, per-minute rates can run less than AT&T’s. For $84.99 per month you can get two hours of free local calls. Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile is one of the biggies, but it falls behind AT&T in terms of available calling features in most of its competing markets. When its own digital service is available, however, it should match most of what AT&T now offers.
GTE Mobilnet
Average. While not as big as the other two, GTE Mobilnet’s cellular systems range from California to Florida (Hawaii too). Home areas are reasonable in size. Weak. GTE is leaning toward the CDMA digital standard, but has not yet deployed it across its network. Consequently, in Cleveland, only regular analog voice service is available. Look to the end of 1997 for digital service to be offered there and elsewhere. Average Standard features include free call waiting, call forwarding, three-way conference calling, no-answer transfer, and call restriction. Voice-mail options include a $6.95-per-month service. Average. Frequent callers can opt for a one-year contract for $36.95 per month, with 50 free minutes and a graduated per-minute charge plan. For $159.95 per month, phone jockeys get over 7 hours of free local calls. While GTE Mobilnet may not be on the cutting edge, its coverage and rate plans are adequate for most callers’ needs. Its cheaper fees are largely due to the particular market example here. But overall, GTE still offers very competitive rates.